Decatur County Feed Yard Inc. LLC
For many years the cattle industry has been a bit of a guessing game for hardworking ranchers with a discrepancy between inputs and outputs, fluctuating market values and never a guarantee that compensation matches the true value of the product. Kansas-based Decatur County Feed Yard Inc. LLC (Decatur) set out to change that 20 years ago, implementing monitoring technologies to manage genetics and drive more profit back to the ranch through retained ownership.
“There’s a saying that goes: ‘You cannot manage what you do not measure,’ and it’s pretty simple, but that’s exactly what we’re doing and we have an amazing story to tell,” reveals Warren Weibert, president and general manager of Decatur.
Changing the game
Based in northwest Kansas, Decatur is a family business built on three profit-driven, time-proven principles: ranchers retaining ownership of cattle through the feed yard; managing and marketing cattle as individuals; and lastly, providing comprehensive individual animal performance data to ranchers. When combined, these steps create a more precise benchmarking system, revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the herd. This data enables ranchers to make more informed decisions in culling and bull purchasing, dramatically and quickly improving profitability.
Since the early 1980s, Decatur has been working with ranchers to help increase the return on investment and track key performance indicators. “The company dates back to 1971 and a group of 45 local investors and a 15,000-head yard,” tells Weibert. “This was during the last few years of the commercial cattle feed boom that started in Texas in the 1960s and worked its way through Kansas. Fred Willard was the first manager, followed by George Hardy.”
In 1977 Milton Nitsch, Weibert’s father-in-law, bought Decatur. “At the time, the company was struggling,” recalls Weibert. “My father-in-law asked me to step in and I started managing the company in 1977.”
Standing out in the crowd
In the driver’s seat, Weibert recognized the competitive landscape and need for Decatur to differentiate itself from hundreds of other feedlots across the country. “Most ranchers sell their calves in the fall and lose track of the stock; we decided to change this track, one step at a time, by monitoring the cattle and giving the rancher a sort of report card,” he explains.
“By 1987, through Kansas State University, we were using ultrasound to check the finish of the cattle,” continues Weibert. “In 1987, not only was Decatur one of the first feed yards in the country to use ultrasound, but the company also began pioneering sorting cattle using chute scales. In 1992, video imaging also followed.”
Weibert goes on explain that in 1994, the company started monitoring with electronic ear tags (ACCU-TRAC), monitoring the calves as individuals in order to trace them though the feed lot and processing plant.
“We market each animal when it reaches peak genetic performance, which was very unusual to the industry,” he elaborates. “We’ve been on that track ever since, completing our 20-year tradition of doing electronic individual cattle management.”
Now, from a single location in Oberlin, Kan., Decatur takes in cattle from all over the country with 140 participating ranchers and a 40,000-head capacity. “We work with ranchers from Hawaii to Virginia and Florida and all over,” shares Weibert. “We sell to one packer – that’s Cargill, and the same plant in Dodge City on the same day of the week; Friday. We’ve taken as many variables out of the equation and standardized the end point so we can deliver consistent feedback.”
For every rancher, Decatur turns out a profit and loss statement for every animal, as well as a group, ranking profitability from best to worst. “This gives them a chance to see why an animal performs well or performs poorly and allows them to adjust their animal health, feed, nutrients and a range of other inputs,” he details.
Straight from the source
The company’s unique system not only enhances sorting, food safety and quality assurance, but also allows Decatur to participate in value added programs; something Weibert says is in high demand in today’s marketplace.
“Nowadays, with more consumers wanting to buy locally and know where their food comes from, the cattle we have here fit that, because they come from a rancher with a story,” Weibert details. A story that Weibert says involves a process of nurturing and great care. “Cattle are handled extremely well; it’s lifeblood for these ranchers, they have to do it well,” he assures. “And we know exactly what’s happened to them, because we’re tracking it and more restaurants and wholesalers are seeking such a product.”
Weibert, who often travels directly to farms to talk with his customers, says it’s all about looking out for their livelihood. “It’s a hand-in-hand relationship to enhance what they’re out there doing every day,” he says. “It’s a continuous cycle of monitoring and using it to improve.”
The company changed the game when it entered the cattle industry and continues to do so today by providing a measure for success from the ranch to the processor. With Weibert at the helm, Decatur County Feed Yard Inc. LLC is excited about the future of the beef business.